Fair Start Scotland: annual report - year 3

This report highlights the progress that our national employment support service Fair Start Scotland has made in its third year of delivery. It draws from evaluation evidence and provider and participant feedback to show the impact the service had on individuals and communities throughout 2020/2021.

1. Introduction: Employability services in Scotland

Fair Start Scotland

Fair Start Scotland (FSS) launched in April 2018 and has been delivering employability support across the country in response to the “Creating a Fairer Scotland: A new future for employability support in Scotland" consultation.

The aim of the service is to support people towards and into work through personalised, one-to-one support, tailored to an individual’s circumstances, treating them with fairness, dignity and respect.

The COVID-19 pandemic had, and continues to have, a profound impact on the service and its users, and our priority remains delivering a quality service which supports people in their journeys towards and into work.

Fair Start Scotland Extension Period 2021-23

FSS contracts were awarded in October 2017 to a mixed economy of suppliers from the public, third and private sectors to deliver the service across Scotland. Launched for an initial three year period, the contracts were set to expire on 31 March 2021, but carried the option of a two-year extension, pending performance.

In July 2020, the then Minister for Business, Fair Work and Skills took the decision to extend Fair Start Scotland contracts for a further two years, allowing more people to join the service up to 31 March 2023, and providing consistent support throughout a period of uncertainty.

The contract extension has provided a strong foundation from which to respond to COVID-19-related labour market changes, as well as delivering on our ‘test and learn’ approach to employability support. As part of our continuous improvement activities, we have already made a number of improvements to FSS delivery to better reflect participants’ needs in these challenging times.

Extending the current contracts has also allowed further development time to deliver on our No One Left Behind ambitions. Building on the foundation of successful FSS services, we continue to work with local government partners and the broader public, third and private sectors to develop an employability system that delivers joined-up, flexible, responsive, person-centred provision.

Labour Market – Year 3

Scotland’s economy and labour market faced unprecedented challenges during the third year of delivery of FSS following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020. The first lockdown in Spring 2020 led to falls in demand for staff as businesses were required to close or limit activity in line with necessary public health restrictions. This led to record declines in people in PAYE employment and a sharp surge in the number of people claiming Universal Credit as people fell out of work and incomes reduced.

While Scotland’s official unemployment rate remained relatively low over the year, supported by the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, Real Time Information data published by HMRC showed a large decline in the number of payrolled employees in Scotland. For example, between February and December 2020, the number of payrolled employees in Scotland fell by more than 85,000 (3.6%).

We also know that the COVID-19 crisis has not impacted everybody equally. For example, there are indications that disabled people have been disproportionately impacted with Scotland’s disability employment gap widening between 2019 and 2020. Also, the unemployment rate of 16-24 year olds increased by more than any other age group, partly driven by the sectoral nature of the crisis and that young people are employed in large numbers in customer facing sectors, e.g. accommodation and food, which have been particularly affected by public health restrictions.

While there are signs of recovery in our labour market in 2021, we recognise that even when the labour market is performing well, inequality of outcomes for particular groups remain. Women, disabled people, minority ethnic groups and lone parents still face barriers and challenges to entering and progressing in work, and negative labour market experiences for young people can have long-lasting effects. In addition to the FSS extension, The Scottish Government has also scaled up its Partnership Action for Continuing Employment (PACE) offer to support people made redundant, and established a package of support to help young people through the Young Person’s Guarantee and low income families through the Parental Employment Support Fund.

Impacts of COVID-19 on Fair Start Scotland delivery and performance

In March 2020, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, referrals to the service from Jobcentre Plus were suspended until June 2020. This was to allow the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to refocus their workforce on processing the unprecedented volume of Universal Credit claims made during lockdown. DWP statistics show 3.2 million claims were made between 16 March and 23 June 2020.

Referrals continued to be made through “third party organisations" via Service Providers or alternatively by self-referral during this time. However, as a result of the lockdown restrictions implemented, Service Providers had to significantly alter the ways in which they promoted FSS during Year 3, leading to the increased use of social media campaigns to generate referrals. As a result, the vast majority of referrals made between March 2020 and June 2020 were generated by Service Providers via digital platforms and social media.

Service Providers also had to adapt quickly to ensure they were able to provide support to new and existing participants in the face of lockdown restrictions. Since the initial lockdown was imposed on 23 March 2020, Fair Start Scotland Providers had to pause their preferred face-to-face interaction offer and deliver support to participants either over the phone or online.

Through the flexibility of support inherent to FSS, Service Providers were able to transition to a fully remote delivery model with minimal impact to participants. Evidence from Service Providers demonstrates that this approach continued to meet individual’s needs, and that it was particularly beneficial to some participants who had previously found it difficult to attend support meetings in person (e.g. due to childcare demands or because of rural transport issues).

The change to a digital support model also appeared to have a less positive impact on the collection of some demographic and equalities monitoring data, with a corresponding increase in the levels of “unknown" or “not reported" data in Year 3 across a range of demographic variables. We have been working with analysts and Service Providers to improve response rates throughout the year, but this has impacted on the patterns of participation for some more disadvantaged groups, as seen in the Story of Year 3: Highlights section. For more information, see the Data Quality section in the Background Information.

When looking at the length of time that participants had been unemployed before joining FSS services, we see a marked shift in the patterns of participation from Years 1 and 2. The figures in the Highlights section show that Year 3 participants were far more likely to have been unemployed for 6 months or less before starting on the service, and that the proportion of people long term unemployed (for 24 months or more) accessing services had dropped considerably (by 20 percentage points).

We also see that the pattern of participation for those who are both disabled and long term unemployed has changed, showing a marked drop in starts in Year 3, from around 20% for Years 1 and 2 to 9% in Year 3. The proportion of “unknown" data recorded for this group increased by 4 percentage points to 10%. The changes in the overall patterns of participation this year suggest that the COVID-19 lockdown and (probably) shielding behaviours have led to less engagement by those who are more vulnerable to illness.

Purpose of Report

This report highlights the progress FSS has made in its third year and provides an insight into the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on service delivery.

The report draws on a range of sources including analysis of management information, demographic and background characteristics of Year 3 participants and information from Service Providers who deliver FSS, including first-hand experiences of the participants themselves.

Many of the findings outlined are taken from the Fair Start Scotland Evaluation Report 4 – Overview of Year 3, published on the Scottish

Case Study

SK’s Story

SK is in her fifties and although she has lived in this country for a number of years had very limited English. She started on Fair Start Scotland during the school holidays and therefore was able to bring one of her daughters to her appointments to translate for her. SK had limited work experience.

SK made all her own clothes as well as clothes for family and friends and was interested in finding work as a sewing machinist. However, she had arthritis in both hands which made working for long periods difficult and painful for her.

After completing an initial assessment, an action plan was agreed with SK. The action plan incorporated a wide range of support interventions tailored to her specific needs. SK’s key worker arranged a referral to a weekly ESOL (English to Speakers of Other Languages) course along with attending a lunch club to further progress her English. SK’s key worker also made a referral to Occupational Health. This allowed health care professionals to assess SK’s arthritis and provide advice and recommendations regarding any adjustments that may be required in the workplace. A referral was also made to the Service Providers’ NHS Health in Work provision and SK attended several appointments with a nurse where she received advice on pain management, exercises for her hands, support splints and a recommendation to take regular breaks to rest her hands when working.

SK’s key worker approached a local employer who manufactured clothing, including uniforms for the NHS and other services, to discuss any job opportunities. A meeting was arranged and the key worker accompanied SK to meet with the manager. She brought her items of clothing that she had made to show the employer, who was impressed with the quality. The key worker suggested reasonable adjustments that could be implemented to aid SK with her arthritis including an application to Access to Work and recommended a work trial to see if she liked that type of work. This was agreed by both SK and the employer and the work trial was set up.

On completion of the work trial, SK was offered a job as a machinist which she accepted. SK has now been in her job for two years.

Government website. The Scottish Government also publishes quarterly statistics on the performance of FSS. These can found at https://www.gov.scot/publications/


Email: kirstie.corbett@gov.scot

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